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Wednesday, 20 August 1902

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should have preferred to deal with this measure in committee, but probably an expression of general opinion may save time by enabling us to more rapidly arrive at decisions in committee. In many respects the measure is one which it would have been better to delay. Although it gives us a modicum of reform' in certain directions, the attempt to secure uniformity, and that real reform which is demanded right through the service, is almost premature. It would have been better to leave the matter alone until we could approach it with a fuller knowledge and a freer hand. Until the bookkeeping sections cease to operate we cannot deal with the question of post and telegraph rates in the manner we would like. For instance, until we are able to have a federal postage stamp, we. cannot very well carry out the ideas of most honorable members. As regards seeming uniformity of rates, the Bill fails lamentably. The chief blot is the effort to preserve State distinctions, when we ought to be most willing and anxious to abolish them. A telegram from Sydney to Bourke, covering a distance, I suppose, of some 500 miles, will, according to the Bill, be carried at a lower rate than will a telegram across the river from Wodonga to Albury. The proposal is to give uniform rates within the State and uniform Inter-State rates; but parts of one State are nearer to parts of another State than parts of one State are to part? of the same State, and it would have been far better to adopt a zone system, and charge according to distance. The lower rate will be charged, it may be, for distances over 1,000 miles within a State, whereas, as I have said, the higher rate will be charged for a message which is merely sent across the river from Victoria to New South Wales. A similar, though not such a glaring, defect was pointed out by the honorable member for Laanecoorie. A lower rate is proposed for metropolitan centres than for provincial towns, though, in the latter, telegraphic communication is of equal importance. In Ballarat and similar places the metropolitan rate will not be allowed, while Sydney, Melbourne, and other capital cities will have all the advantages of cheap telegraphic communication. I have advocated all through that the Commonwealth would do right to charge postage on newspapers sent hy the mails. The Government are acting wisely in proposing a uniform postage of id. per paper ; but I believe that in committee an amendment will be proposed to so increase the maximum weight as to include all publications. Many of the newspapers most desired by country subscribers exceed 8 ozs. in weight r and in my opinion the maximum ought to be extended to 12 ozs. or even to 16 ozs. The mails were established for the conveyance of letters, and the fact that they are established makes it possible for us to carry newspapers relatively verycheaply.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why does the carriage of newspapers " not amount to the same expense 1

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Simply because we must have mails for the conveyance of letters, which are the primary consideration. The post-office existed in the first instance for the carriage and delivery of letters, and the newspapers can, therefore, be carried at a cheaper rate. I have always advocated that the post-office should be conducted on commercial lines. That is not the opinion of the honorable member for Dalley, but say that we can conduct the post-office on commercial lines without desiring to make revenue or profit. Private firms and railways carry certain goods at lower rates than other goods, simply because they know they would not get the former if the lower rates were not charged.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did the honorable member ever find anybody who could explain those classification sheets 1

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is quite correct in saying that no nian could understand some of the distinctions which are made. But it would be very easy to draw a distinction between a letter and a printed periodical ; and that is the distinction I wish to see drawn. Although I have advocated that the postoffice should be conducted on commercial lines, I have never yet urged that there should be a revenue or profit. My object is to give the greatest facilities to the people at the lowest possible cost - that we should have constantly increasing facilities whilst making the department pay. In my opinion we, in some respects, prevent the department paying by charging too much ; and the alteration in regard to the charges for telegrams is a movement in the wrong direction. Too much is asked for the despatch of messages, and the result may be that the department will not pay so well in the future as in the past. In regard to newspapers, we have no right to yield to the persuasive arguments which have been placed before us in favour of exempting newspaper proprietors from payment for services rendered. These arguments do not seem to meet the case in any respect. We have in previous measures, to which I may not now refer, shown to newspaper proprietors a leniency which to me was somewhat of a surprise. We have refused to tax them, as we have in many cases taxed people engaged in other industries. But here we are dealing with the question of doing certain work for newspaper proprietors, which otherwise they would have to do for themselves ; and in the interests of the general community we are' perfectly prepared to do that work at the lowest possible cost compatible with recouping the post-office. That cost I would estimate after excluding the cost of instituting the post-office in the first instance ; and to my mind one halfpenny is the lowest charge we can make. It is the least valuable coin in circulation amongst us, and I regard it as a fair charge on the proprietors of the great journals. As I say, however, the Government would act wisely if they extended the maximum weight to even 16 ozs., so as to include the large and important weekly newspapers which circulate throughout the' country. As to bundles of newspapers sent to various parts of the country for distribution through agents, I regard the proposed charge of Id. per lb. as very excessive. If it had been left open to newspaper proprietors, as it might have been, to send their newspapers as ordinary goods instead of sending them through the post, there is no doubt they would have0 availed themselves of the opportunity, and have thus enjoyed a much cheaper carriage than is provided for in the Bill. We might very well make the rate such that it would be to the best interests of the proprietors to send the whole of their newspapers in bulk in charge of the postal authorities. We must not forget that there is not only the duty of carrying these goods, but also the duty of delivering or putting them out of the train, and, consequently, there should be some reasonable charge. If we adopted a scale such as has been in force in some of the States, charging so much for every 7 lbs. per 100 miles, we should meet the necessities of the case, and get all the returns we have a right to expect from this source. It seems to me that the Government have also blundered in connexion "with the telegraph rates which they have adopted. A communication which I have received from the stock exchanges of Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide shows that the rates provided for in the Bill will cause the general public who use this means of communication to pay more on the whole than they are now paying. Therefore, although the Government have put forward these rates as a sort of concession, they are no concession at] all, and I believe that their effect as time goes on will be to diminish, rather than to increase, the receipts from telegrams. In some cases the charges seem to be abnormally high, and they are, on the whole, inequitable, having regard to the distances to which they apply. I think, too, that the Government have made a mistake, for the reasons advanced by other speakers, in charging for the transmission of addresses and signatures. -If the senders of messages cut down their addresses to a minimum length, as they will if the addresses are charged for, the department will be put to a large additional expense in delivering the messages. Then, again, the charge for messages is one which will fall most heavily upon the poorer classes of the community. Whereas " Wood Jones, Melbourne," is an address which would find a firm doing business here under the designation of Messrs. Wood and Jones, an obscure individual could not be found unless his name were given in full, together with the street and the number of the house in which he was living. I think that we shall do well to retain the system which has hitherto prevailed throughout these States, in Canada, the United States, and, I believe, in New Zealand, and allow addresses and signatures to be transmitted free of cost, though the number of words allowed in the message might be reduced to eight. There can be no doubt that the more we reduce charges of this kind, within reason, the more the facilities we provide will be used, and the greater will be the increase of revenue. With regard to the proposal that meteorological reports should be transmitted free of charge, I agree with what many honorable members have said. I think that the transmission of telegrams to and from Mr. Wragge and other observers free of charge might be provided for temporarily until the Commonwealth meteorological staff is provided for. Meteorology has been laughed at by some people, and has hitherto not been very successful, either here or in other parts of the world ; but it is becoming a recognised science, and will have a much better chance of success when the observations are conducted by Commonwealth officials, acting in conjunction and in cooperation, than under the present system, under which the various observers act without cooperation, and under no general control. The Government might make some interim arrangement with the Queensland Government for the retention of Mr. Wragge. 43 d

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